A nerve jangling week closes with a trip to St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon and a tricky game that has the adjective ‘really-nice-to-win‘ in front of it currently, though it is veering towards ‘must-win’.
Our recent ineptness in the league, one point from nine, means that we’re now in a scrap for the top four. Most commentators seem surprised by this but I think any Spurs fan who’d taken a look at our remaining fixtures a fortnight ago would’ve seen four London derbies as well as trips to Anfield and the Middle Eastlands and knew that the apparent serene progress to third (let alone being involved in a ‘title race’) was likely to be disrupted before the season was out; the defeat at Turf Moor meant that the interruption came earlier than expected.
Southampton’s revival under Ralph Hasenhuttl seemed spectacular at first as they beat the Gooners and Huddersfield in quick succession in December having recently lost to Fulham and Cardiff. A draw at Stamford Bridge and a win at Leicester in January were decent results but in general they’ve been pretty consistently inconsistent. They lost again to Cardiff a month ago but since then have given Arsenal and Man Utd a run for their money before losing both ultimately.
They lie 17th in the table, 2 points clear of Cardiff and 3 behind Burnley. With just nine games to go, it’s all very tight down there. Danny Ings is their top goalscorer with 7, Ward-Prowse has 5 and Nathan Redmond 3. Hm. At Old Trafford Austin and Redmond led the attack, Valery and W-P got the goals however.
So on the face of it, keeping them out shouldn’t be too much of a problem. (Famous last words). What about at the back? Yoshida, Vestergaard, Bertrand and Bednarek conceded three to Man Utd but kept a clean sheet against Fulham, their first since playing Chelsea at the start of January.
So whilst the rumours are that they’re a different prospect than at the start of the season when Mark Hughes was in charge, the stats don’t point to that much of a turn around in form despite the general impression that the new chap has got them organised and motivated. We shall see.
Dele Alli might be back. Oh my word. How we’ve missed his ability to link play and receive the ball with his back to goal. He may start, knowing Pochettino which will hopefully give Eriksen the chance to drop back and get more involved where he wants to be playing. Dier may play too given that Winks is unlikely to be fit and Wanyama was so immobile and ineffective against Arsenal.
Trippier is out so another game for Aurier.
Hugo, Aurier, Rose, Toby, Jan, Dier, Sissoko, Son, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. It’s a guess.
On paper (and at the bookies) we’re favourites, our form has been so dreadful of late though (Champions League honourably excepted of course) that it’ll take a major lift for us to cope with this game comfortably. We’ve looked stretched in midfield, vulnerable at the back and in patchy form up front. The return of Dele could well solve many of these issues, whether it’s enough for us to resume our swan like journey to Champions League qualification is another matter.
Kevin Friend is the referee. He was in charge when we won in Cardiff in January and when lost to Palace in the cup.
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